(Via PGA TOUR) LUTZ, Fla. – Jim Rutledge birdied the final hole of his third round on Thursday to take a one-shot lead at 4-under entering Friday’s final round at PGA TOUR Champions Q-School. Tied for second at 3-under are Mark Walker (Hurst, Texas) and Cliff Kresge (Kingsport, Tennessee), while Stephen Leaney (Perth, Australia) sits in fourth place. Five players are tied for the fifth and final fully-exempt spot on PGA TOUR Champions for 2019.
Rutledge reigns from Victoria, British Columbia and turned professional in 1978. He spent the first 20 years of his career playing in Asia in the winter and Canada the remainder of the year. Rutledge owns nine professional wins including six Canadian Tour wins, which he attributes to his three consistent rounds (70-71-68) this week at TPC Tampa Bay.
“Being Canadian is helping me out a lot. We (referring to his wife who caddies for him) came from this kind of weather the last few weeks. We practiced really hard at home and down in Nevada it was no different. It was cold down there and we managed to get through it,” said Rutledge. “Tomorrow I am just going to keep plugging away because you never know what is going to happen with five spots in this thing. You can never really get too far ahead.”
Rutledge is no stranger to PGA TOUR Champions Q-School as he is competing in his 10th final stage in his career. Rutledge has 115 starts on PGA TOUR Champions and holds six finishes in the top-10. His last start on Tour came in his hometown at the 2017 Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship.
Walker carded a 5-under 66 to move 14 places up the leaderboard and into a tie for second place with Kresge. This past season, Walker Monday qualified in six events and finished T31 at the 3M Championship for his best finish. Last year at Q-School, Walker finished ninth and used that as motivation to return for a card this year.
“Monday qualifying is tough. It would mean a great deal to me to win a card tomorrow, not only would it give me playing privileges for the year, but it would make my life that much easier,” said Walker. “The golf course is playing tough, but I need to keep hitting fairways and greens tomorrow and putt well. I thought the leaders would go a bit lower today, but I am happy with the position I set myself in headed into Friday.”
Kresge shares second place with Walker after carding a 3-under 68, a result of five birdies. Kresge turned professional in 1991 and recorded 11 top-10s in 212 starts on the PGA TOUR, and his last start on the PGA TOUR was at the 2017 John Deere Classic where he missed the cut.
“My goal today was to shoot 5-under. I hit a ball in the water on 12 to make bogey but responded with a birdie on the next hole so was happy with myself for that and from there continued to grind it out at the end,” Kresge said. “Tomorrow I will have the same mindset and make a new goal for myself. If I make goals for myself and achieve those goals, the rest will take care of itself.”
At the end of four rounds, the top-five finishers earn fully-exempt status for the 2019 season. In addition, players finishing sixth through 30th (and ties) are eligible to compete in open qualifiers at all co-sponsored events on PGA TOUR Champions in 2019.
Tee times for Friday’s final round will run from 8:00-10:12 a.m. off the Nos. 1 and 10 tees at TPC Tampa Bay. For more information, please visit www.PGATOUR.com/champions.